February 23rd, 2013
The often made assertion that most people read and write less now with the advent of smartphones and tablets and other such teletechnologies is patently absurd. It is only necessary to watch people interact with their devices a short time to see that they actually do little else but read and write for considerable portions of their day, churning out more words with their thumbs than writers of the past were able to accomplish with pens or typewriters or computers. It is not the case that people read and write less. Rather, it is the case that what they read and write, to a degree that no one could have expected, is the minutia of each other’s lives, the commonplaces of their immediate social relationships. The culture of the device has made this fact seem obvious and natural, and yet, no previous generation could have imagined that reading and writing would come to serve this purpose, that the personal and the commonplace use of the written word would come to eclipse any artistic, political, economic, or practical use of the written word, at least in sheer volume, that the verbal chatter of our kitchen tables and office water coolers and gym locker rooms would become the dominant literary mode of our time, not in a form that tries to raise it to any artistic or practical significance, but in a form that revels precisely in its commonness, in its insignificance, in its detachment from any greater social or political meaning, because to our great relief, we have at last discovered a literature that will not disturb, by any means, the isolation of our own lives.